ALLEZ CUISINE! Gourmet Battle Girls
It felt like time had stopped as Frosted Tips Boy quietly walked over to me, bending down to look into my eyes.
“You remember me, don’t you? Of course you do…you’re the little bitch that got me expelled.”
I could feel sweat coursing down my body. My mind was screaming as I struggled futilely. Why is this happening…No no no no no…
“Why don’t you be a good little girl…and accept your punishment?”
Suddenly, the person holding me pushed me forward. Frosted Tips Boy’s knee caught me in the stomach, driving the air out of me again, before I could scream.
Something long and thin hit me repeatedly across the back of both my legs as I tried to crawl away. I didn’t feel anything break, but it hurt like hell. Another one of the boys stomped on my outstretched hand, and I shrieked as I felt something break the skin—he was probably wearing sports cleats. I pulled my arms up over my head to protect it as I was being kicked and battered from what seemed like every direction at once.
Every cell in my body was telling me to flee. I tried to get to my feet, but felt my ankle being grabbed from behind. I bucked and kicked, trying to break free from the grasp, and finally felt them let go. Fueled by pure fear, I dashed away as fast as I could. “HELP ME! SOMEONE HELP!” I screamed.
Just then, as I reached a worn down gravel path, I saw someone approaching—wait, could it be? Was that…
“SEMPAI!” I shrieked as Taiga Shirogane came into the light. He turned to me, looking surprised, and caught me as I ran headlong into him. His arms enfolded me gently.
“Vanilla-san, what happened?” he asked.
“We…We gotta run…” I gasped. I looked behind him to see Frosted Tips Boy and the two other attackers barreling towards us, one of them brandishing what looked like a bamboo sword. “SEMPAI! RUN!”
Taiga didn’t say or do anything as I watched them come closer. “Sempai…?” I whispered, but then he bent down and looked into my eyes, smiling. But it wasn’t his usual smile.
“Why don’t you be a good little girl…and accept your punishment?” he snarled.
He pushed me backwards. I was caught in the arms of Frosted Tips Boy, who grabbed my arms and twisted them behind me painfully. I shrieked in pain and alarm.
“Oh, Vanilla-chan. Scream all you want. You know about the bystander effect, do you?” Taiga asked. “Where everyone assumes that someone else is going to call the police. Unfortunately…there’s no someone else here. It’s just the five of us.”
He stepped closer to me as I struggled. That warm smile that had encouraged me was replaced by one that was sinister and as cold as absolute zero. “You know, Vanilla-chan…your father wasn’t the only one who died that day in the Himalayas,” he said, in that gentle voice that was dripping with poison instead of sugar. “I have a question…does the name ‘Hibiki’ mean anything to you?”
I was too scared to form words; the only sounds I could make were frightened gasps. My eyes darted around looking for an opening, anywhere I could escape to. I couldn’t even see the light from the police box that was nearby. The drivers of the cars that were going by on the overpass wouldn’t even think to look down. All I could think was, it was a trap it was a trap it was a trap…
“Answer me, Sakamoto,” Taiga ordered.
“I…I don’t know…” I stammered.
“What about the name…Hibiki Shirogane?”
Suddenly, I remembered something: a story about a gourmet battler who had been given a five year ban from the league after a scandal involving judges with close personal connections to the combatants. Rumors had swirled around about how she had been made a scapegoat for the real culprits…and they had mentioned her for the briefest moment during the time Taiga had been competing.
“The cheating scandal…” I stammered.
Taiga’s expression changed. “She was my mother,” he said. “And being branded a cheater is all everyone will ever remember her by. Not because of her comeback. Not because she was handpicked by your father for this expedition. When that plane went down, no one cared about her. No one cared about her sons or her husband. All everyone cared about…was your father and the little girl he left behind.” He glared at me, his face inches from mine. “We got no condolences from celebrities. No donations. No public memorial services. It was all about him. And in turn…it was all about you.”
He slapped me painfully across the face. “Seeing an arrogant little bitch like you broken and humiliated was something I’ve wanted for a very long time. And winning the tournament will just be icing on the cake.”
I recovered from the blow enough to gasp, “Did you…hurt Tsukiko-sempai…and Yomogi-chan?”
“What do you think?” Shirogane smiled, and his look said everything.
I was boiling with rage. “You…You slimy little shit eating bastard!” I snarled, but one of Frosted Tips Boy’s friends hit me across my legs again with the bamboo sword. I shrieked in pain.
“That’s such a horrible thing for a pretty little mouth to say,” Taiga said, leaning close to me. Before I could protest, he pulled my face close to his and kissed me on the lips, forcing his tongue into my mouth. There was nothing I could do to stop him and struggling only made things worse. After what seemed like an eternity, he broke the kiss, and smiled as he caressed my cheek.
“You’ve been dreaming of that, haven’t you?” he said, chuckling. “Now then, Vanilla-chan…we’re just going to keep this little conversation between us. If you say anything to anyone…there’s someone that we’ll be paying a little visit.” He got close to me again and whispered two words into my ear that made my blood run cold.
“NO!” I shrieked. “She’s got nothing to do with this! Leave her alone!”
“Oh, don’t worry. I will. As long as you know how to keep a secret.” Shirogane stepped back. “Let her go, Tanaka,” he ordered.
I was thrown from Frosted Tips Boy’s arms onto the concrete path, landing hard. “Did you and your friends have fun playing with her?” Shirogane asked.
I heard a snort from Frosted Tips Boy. “Wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ll take it.”
“Then let’s get out of here. I’ll have the money for you at the bank.”
“Right.” The boys walked past me, following Shirogane out of the park. I heard them laughing and joking with each other about what they had originally planned for me as they walked away. If you were around to hear it, it was enough to turn your stomach.
I waited until their voices faded into the distance before I stumbled to my feet. I had puncture wounds on the back of my hand and fresh bruises on both my arms, and walking was difficult—the blows on my legs were still smarting, and they were going to leave serious marks. I licked my bottom lip and tasted caked dried blood, and remembered the forced kiss. A wave of nausea overcame my stomach and I stumbled into the bushes to throw up.
What time was it? It felt like hours since I’d been tackled. I reached into my pocket to check the time on my phone, but came up empty. I patted around my clothing, searching desperately. It was gone!
It could have fallen out of my pocket anywhere around here. I looked around trying to retrace my steps, but I could barely remember what had happened in my panic induced flight. Chances are it was pretty much gone…or they took it. I was thinking that it was probably the latter.
As the shock started to wear off, my legs started to hurt. I stumbled out of the park and back onto the main street. I must’ve looked like hell. I glanced left and right, hoping I wouldn’t stumble on my attackers again, as I looked for the police box I had spotted on my way to the park.
Finally, I saw its familiar blue light and stumbled towards it. An officer was sitting inside, and he sprang to their feet as he saw me. “Young lady! Are you all right?” he said.
The warning from Shirogane was still fresh in my mind as I stammered a response. “I got mugged for my phone,” I said.
“Sit down. I’ll take the report,” the officer said. “Do you need a doctor?”
I spent the better part of an hour giving the police officer the report on what happened. Everything, except for Shirogane’s threat. If he had the resources to lay that kind of trap on me and hurt Tsukiko and Yomogi, who knows what else he could be capable of doing. When they asked me if I knew the identities of my attackers, I shook my head no. Another officer was tending to my cut lip and wounded hand, dabbing them carefully with gauze soaked in antiseptic.
“I don’t think you’ll need stitches, but you might need an x-ray just in case,” she said, as she carefully laid a bandage on the back of my hand. “And a tetanus booster.”
I nodded and flexed my hand, wincing in pain. One of the spikes for the cleats must’ve gone through a muscle.
The phone on the desk rang, and the officer collecting my report sprang up. “Hold on,” he said. He ran to the other room and picked it up. “Haneda, Tanpopo Park…Oh?” He glanced back at me for a second, then returned to his conversation. “Yes, exactly as you described her…Tell them she’s going to need medical attention…Yes. All right.” He hung up the phone.
“Sakamoto-san, your friends are coming,” he said. “They were out looking for you.”
“They…they are?” I stammered.
“My colleague called asking if I’d seen someone matching your description.” He sat back down and looked over his laptop where he had been typing up the report. “Do you have anything else you need to report about the incident, Sakamoto-san?”
I shook my head. “No…nothing else.” There was nothing else I could say. Not with Caroline’s safety hanging in the balance.
A few minutes later, I heard a knock at the door and looked outside to see Mako standing outside—with Kei behind her. “Mako-san! Kei-chan!” I called.
“Vanilla-chan! Are you all right?” Mako rushed in, looking extremely pale. Kei followed, holding a small bag from a nearby convenience store.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, as I carefully eased myself upright. “I need to get checked out…”
Kei walked over and stooped down, looping her arm around my shoulders to help support me. “There’s a 24 hour emergency room near here,” she said. “Do you think you can make it?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Mako was looking relieved as she thanked the two police officers. “Come on,” she said as she started for the door. “We’ll talk on the way.”
“Be safe,” the police officer said as we exited the station. The streets were still quiet, and the insects were still buzzing. Kei slowly helped me along as we walked back towards the main street.
“I was looking for you earlier,” Mako said, “because I needed to show you something, but you weren’t around. Then I tried messaging you, and you weren’t responding. So I called Kei-chan, and she hadn’t seen you, either…”
“And that’s when I got a message from your phone,” Kei said. “And I knew it hadn’t been sent from you. I came down as fast as I could.”
“Must’ve been…” I started to say, but then I went silent. “I’ll…I’ll tell you later. Not here. Not…”
“Right,” Mako said. “I understand. Oh, is this the hospital you were talking about, Kei-chan?”
“Wait, this is…” It was the same building that I had visited Yomogi in, scarcely a few hours earlier. I didn’t want to say anything. It’d break Yomogi’s heart if she heard about what happened.
We went inside to the deserted waiting room and Kei walked me up to the front desk to get registered. I gave the receptionist a condensed version of what happened and told her I wanted an x-ray on my hands and legs, to make sure that there wasn’t any lasting damage. I hobbled back to join Mako and Kei on a bench. Kei reached into a bag and pulled out a wrapped melon bread.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
“I…don’t really feel much like eating,” I said, patting my stomach. My throat still felt raw from vomiting.
Kei looked around and pulled out her phone, and touched the icon for text messaging. “This was what I got…” she said as she showed it to me. It was a picture of me, taken by one of the boys who had attacked me. I was lying sprawled on the ground. There were huge angry red lashes on the back of my legs, my clothing was dirty, and my hair was disheveled.
“Who the hell did this to you?” Mako growled. She looked like she was about to rip someone’s head off.
I just looked down at it. I wanted to tell them everything, but I could feel the specter of Shirogane lurking in the background. My eyes were beginning to tear up, and as my vision became blurry, I thought I momentarily saw Caroline in the picture…
“Vanilla-chan, we don’t have to talk here. We can go back first,” Mako said.
I was about to speak, but then a nurse came in. “Sakamoto-san?” she asked. “Please follow me.”
“Do you want one of us to come with you?” Kei asked, but I shook my head. “All right. We’ll be waiting for you.”
The good news: Nothing was broken and I didn’t need stitches, but my legs and arms were going to look terrible for the next few weeks.
The bad news: I did need a tetanus booster after all, ouch.
I returned to Kei and Mako in the waiting room, clutching the bag of painkillers and antibiotic ointment the doctor had prescribed to me, and with a fresh bandage on my injured hand. I looked up and noticed the clock for the first time in a while, and noticed it was past midnight.
“Kei-chan, are you going to be all right if you’re out this late?” I asked.
“It’s fine,” Kei said. “I told my family what was happening before I left.”
We stopped to buy a bottle of water from a vending machine, so I could take some of the painkillers. I leaned up against the back of a wall as I swallowed the pills.
“Does walking hurt?” Kei asked.
“A little,” I said. “If we go slow, it should be fine.”
Kei shook her head and turned around, so her back was facing me. She crouched down.
“Get on,” she said.
“Wait, what? Are you sure?”
“Trust me. You need your rest,” Kei said. “Get on my back.”
I did so, with Kei carefully wrapping my legs around her arms. “Are you going to be all right?” I asked.
“I should be the one asking you that question,” Kei said.
Mako checked her phone. “I let Dai-kun know we’re on our way back,” she said. “Come on.”
I clutched Kei tightly as we slowly made our way to the train station.
We arrived back at the Saibara Building. I carefully lowered myself down from Kei’s back as Mako took out the keys for her apartment.
“You’re back,” said a voice from inside—it was her boyfriend, Daisuke Honda the motorcycle fan. As we passed through, he saw my face and winced. “What happened?” he asked.
“Long story,” I said.
“Dai-kun, how is she?” Mako asked.
“She fell asleep, finally. All that playing wore her out.”
We stepped into the apartment to find that a cardboard box was sitting on the table. “This is what I wanted to show you,” Mako said, as we came closer. We looked inside the box to see that it was lined with a ragged towel, and a tiny black kitten with white spots was stretched out inside, asleep.
“It’s so cute!” I squealed softly. “Where did you find it?”
“I was on my way here and I saw her at the side of the road,” Daisuke said. “I couldn’t find her mom or anyone else so I just scooped her up and tucked her in my jacket.”
“It’s a girl?” I asked. Carefully I reached into the box and lightly stroked the top of the kitten’s head.
“Yeah. We were gonna take her to the vet, and then…” Daisuke glanced at Mako. I guessed that was when my situation became the priority. “I’m going to be headed out, now that you’re back,” Daisuke said to Mako. “Let me know what the vet says.”
“I will. Thanks for bringing her, Dai-kun,” Mako said, as she gave Daisuke a hug and kiss.
Daisuke turned around and walked out, waving. He shut the door behind him, leaving the three of us and the kitten. I peered into the box and watched her sleeping, her round belly rising and falling. Her tail was completely black, her paws looked like they were dipped in white paint, and there was a white spot on her chest. I wondered what color her eyes were.
“What are you going to do with her?” I asked Mako.
“Tomorrow I’m going to take her to the vet to see if she’s healthy, and then…” She shrugged. “I have to admit, I miss Ebifry a lot.”
“She looks pretty young,” Kei said.
“I managed to get her to eat some leftover wet food I had for Ebifry but I’ll need to track down some food just for kittens,” Mako said. She went over to the hot water dispenser in her kitchen and took down three cups. “Sit down, both of you. I’ll make us some tea. Do you want tea, Vanilla-chan?”
“Um…yeah…” I was feeling dazed as the shock of the evening’s events had left me.
Kei followed me over to the table and sat down next to me. “It’s just the three of us now,” Kei said. “You…you don’t have to tell us everything that happened if it’s too painful, but…”
I nodded and took a deep breath. “It…it was a trap,” I said.
“A trap?” Kei asked.
“I tried sending a message to someone my father was friends with using the NPBGA website…but someone must’ve intercepted it.”
“What did you say in the message?” Kei asked.
“That…that something bad was happening in the competition,” I said. “I told them about what happened to Tsukiko-sempai and Yomogi-chan and me…” My hands were shaking. “They wrote back pretending to be the person I messaged and said to meet them at Tanpopo Park…” I swallowed. “There were four guys…they chased me down and started beating me up, and then…” My hands were shaking almost uncontrollably, and Kei gently grasped them. “He…they said…they said that…if I told anyone what I knew…that they’d go after Caroline-chan.”
“Caroline-chan?” Mako asked.
“Ryotaro Koizumi’s daughter,” Kei explained. “Vanilla-chan, the people that attacked you…did you know them?” Kei asked.
I hesitated, but then nodded.
“Do we know them?” Kei asked.
“I…” I wanted to tell them everything, but my fear was too great. I looked down at my lap. Kei must’ve gotten my hint, as she got up. “Mako-san, do you have that spare futon?” she asked. “I just realized how late it is.”
“Sure,” Mako said. She went over to a wall closet and opened it up.
“Vanilla-chan, if it’s okay…I’ll stay with you tonight,” Kei said.
Thankfully, my house keys were still on me, so I let Kei in, who laid Mako’s spare futon out on the kitchen floor.
“It’s been so long since I was here,” Kei said. “We’ve got to do another dinner party sometime…” Her voice trailed off. “When Yomogi-chan is better.”
“When I talked to her today, she said that she might not be coming back,” I said, as I went into the bathroom. I put more toothpaste on my toothbrush than was absolutely necessary and started scrubbing at my teeth, trying to scrub out the memory of Shirogane’s forced kiss.
“I hope she does,” Kei said. “She was…she is so happy here.” She looked at my room. “Do you have a spare t-shirt or pajamas I can borrow?” she asked.
I finished washing up and tossed her a long sleep t-shirt that I had recently washed, then shuffled into my sleeping area and pulled back the covers of my futon.
“I’m sorry, Kei-chan,” I said, as I laid my head down on the pillow.
“What are you sorry for?” Kei asked.
“I…I should’ve told you about this meeting…”
“Vanilla-chan. Please…try not to dwell on it,” Kei said.
“I wish I was as strong as you are. Maybe I could’ve escaped.”
“I don’t think even I could have escaped four against one,” Kei said. “You needed to do what you could in order to survive. That’s what counts.”
“Yeah,” I murmured. My thoughts drifted and I pulled my knees up to my chest.
“Do you need anything? I’m going to turn the light off.”
“No…” I tried closing my eyes, but horrible thoughts still clamored inside my head.
“I’ll be right here. You’re safe.”
“Yeah…safe…” I murmured.
The light clicked off, and I heard the rustling of sheets as Kei crawled into her futon. The room grew quiet, and all I could hear was my clock ticking. I tried my best to think of pleasant thoughts and banish the night’s events from my mind, and remembered the kitten sleeping in Mako’s apartment. But then the thought of something happening to Caroline intruded its way back to the front of my mind, until I decided to defeat it with another thought of my own: I need to warn Ryotaro.
I woke up feeling terrible. I looked down at my arms and legs to see that the angry red marks were replaced by ugly bruises, and there was an ugly bruise covering the back of my hand underneath the bandage. Everything still ached horribly.
I looked up to see Kei in the kitchen. She had shifted the futon to one side, and was doing a series of exercises, steadily breathing in and out, her face a mask of pure concentration. If only I had your strength, I thought, flexing my right hand and wincing as the puncture wound throbbed in pain.
I looked over at the table to see that the alarm clock was reading a time later than when I’d usually wake up for school. As I did so, Kei noticed me, and went into a neutral stance.
“I turned your alarm off, so you could get a little more sleep,” she said. “I doubt you want to go to school today, anyway.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I kinda have to,” Kei said. She crouched down next to me at the table. “Big test in one of my classes. And I want to go see Yomogi-chan today.”
My conversation with Maria the previous afternoon sprang to mind. “Kei-chan, do me a favor and contact Maria-san,” I said. “We were talking yesterday after I went to see Yomogi-chan, and she gave me an idea. The only trouble is, I told her I’d meet her at lunch…”
Kei nodded. “I’ll go in your stead,” she said. “So what’s this idea?”
I explained the park underneath her hospital window, and Kei’s face lit up. “That’s perfect! And we can try to get a few signs made, too!”
I smiled. “Let me know when it happens. I’ll do my best to make it out there,” I said. “There’s something I need to do today.”
“Wait, what? But you need to rest!” Kei protested, but my resolve was firm.
“I’ve got to warn Ryotaro-san about Caroline.”
Kei nodded. “All right. But rest up a little more first.”
“I will,” I said.
She gathered up the futon and left my apartment, carefully closing the door behind her. I settled back down in my futon and decided to get a little more rest.
I woke up about an hour later, with the sun beaming down on my face. I opened up my computer and searched through one of my storage bins for my old phone—the one my mom had paid to fix after she knocked it out of my hands in anger. It was two years out of date, but it would have to do. I connected it to my computer and proceeded to do the information transfer from backup, which would take a while, so I decided to visit Mako and see if the little kitten was awake.
Sure enough, I went to her door to see Mako holding the kitten in her arms. The kitten buried its head against Mako’s chest as I approached. “Hey, now, Kurozato-chan! She’s a friend!” Mako said as she let me in and closed the door behind her.
“Kurozato [black sugar]?” I asked.
“Kuro,” Mako said, pointing to the kitten’s head. “Zato!” she continued, holding up one of her paws. Kurozato made a squeaky mew.
Mako sat down on the floor and carefully placed Kurozato beside her. Carefully, I sat down, making sure I wasn’t hitting any sore spots. I reached out my hand and she approached, sniffing my fingers. She had beautiful yellow eyes. I stroked her cheek and she seemed to like that, so I started rubbing her under the chin and on top of her head. She scrunched up her eyes and started to purr.
“She seems a lot better than last night,” Mako said. “What about you?”
“I got a little more sleep,” I said. “I’m waiting for my old phone to restore from backup and then I need to go out.”
“Go out? Where? After last night?” Mako was surprised.
“I have to warn Ryotaro-san,” I said.
“Can’t you call him or something? You’re in no condition—”
“I spent most of last night having nightmares about this happening to Caroline-chan!” I snapped. “You weren’t there…You didn’t hear them talking about…about…” My face started trembling. Kurozato had cowered behind Mako, looking concerned.
“All right…but call me if you need help getting back,” Mako said. She reached behind her and gently picked Kurozato up, stroking her head gently.
The TV was on behind her, and it was tuned to a morning news program. As Kurozato started to curl up in Mako’s lap, I watched as the newscasters posted a picture of an older gentleman on the screen. “Earlier this week, we reported on the hospitalization of a contestant in Umami Gakuen’s Summer Invitational,” said the newscaster. “This was the result of online bullies exposing an incident in their past, when they witnessed an assault on an elderly shopkeeper. Today, Eichi Kumagai, the man injured in the incident, made a statement to local media.” The video cut to a man standing at a podium at what looked like a town hall. He looked very strong for his age, and I could see a very faint scar on his forehead.
“I do not blame this child,” he said. “They were the only one that tried to help me. They deserve to let their dreams come true. If there is one to blame…then blame the one that hurt me. Back off from this innocent child! Remember, she is a human being, like you and me.”
The video then cut back to the newscaster. “Because of the coordination and the timing of these attacks, they are under investigation by the police.”
“I hope that at least makes them back off,” Mako said.
“That’s the second time I’ve heard that the police are involved,” I said. “What’s really going on…”
“Something big’s happening,” Mako said. “I don’t need any more convincing about it…”
Carefully I picked myself up, leaning against the wall for support. “I’m going to head out. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Remember. Call me if you need help,” Mako said.
“Right. I’ll be careful. I promise,” I said.
My phone was ready, but I wasn’t. I pulled a pair of black socks from my previous school’s uniform over my bruised legs, and found a semi-formal mock two-piece dress that looked fairly professional and was cool enough for summer before I packed everything up and headed out.
As I walked downstairs, I bumped into Tenmyouji and his armload of dirty laundry. “Sorry!” I said, jumping back and watching as a pair of boxer shorts fell on the floor.
“My fault. I should be watching where I’m—” Tenmyouji said, but he turned to me and noticed my face. “What happened?”
“…Long story,” I said. I let him return to his laundry as I made my way out of the building.
Meanwhile, in the apartment upstairs
Shinji Tenmyouji stared at the figures in the bank account incredulously. How could they have gone down by five hundred thousand yen in less than 24 hours? He wasn’t scheduled to be doing any payouts. He checked the account information and found that they were withdrawn from an ATM last night at 9:35, at a bank branch near the train station that served Musashino General Hospital. Aside from Shinji himself, there was only one other person that had access to a bank card—Taiga Shirogane.
What did he need all that money for? Shinji thought as he hit the option to call Taiga on his phone. He’d probably be in class by now, but that was fine. A few hang-up calls with no messages would get his attention.
Sakamoto’s appearance was also bothering him. She looked like she was in pain, and that cut on her swollen lip didn’t look like it was from a cooking accident. He sat back on his futon, lost in thought, until he sat up abruptly and turned towards a computer. He logged into an anonymous web browser and entered the login credentials for Kentaro Matsudaira’s NPGBA account. Sure enough, his email inboxes and outboxes were completely scrubbed and empty, but Shinji typed in the code to restore the website from five hours earlier and switched to the sent box. The email that Taiga had sent luring Sakamoto to the meeting spot was front and center.
His eyes narrowed into slits as he saved the email to the folder of blackmail material, and his phone began to vibrate. He looked down to realize that Taiga was calling him back. With hands shaking in rage, he picked it up.
“You’re burning up my phone there,” Taiga said, chuckling. “I don’t have much time.”
“Shirogane. There’s five hundred thousand yen missing from our bank account from last night. Why,” Tenmyouji said sternly.
“A friend of mine needed the money,” Taiga said. “He was thrown out of school a few months ago and his parents kicked him out. Girl problems, as he put it.”
“I’m going to pay it back. I promise,” Taiga said, chuckling.
“Do I know this friend of yours?” Shinji asked.
“You might…remember a guy named Hiro Tanaka? You kind of kicked him to the curb a little while back…”
“I had my reasons.”
“What’s with you? You’re never this angry.”
“Sakamoto-san’s been injured. I don’t know how or why.”
“Oh, my. That’s awful,” Taiga said, sarcastically. “And under your watch, too…You must feel awful.”
Not as awful as you’re gonna feel, Shinji thought. “Put the money back into the account in 7 days. That’s an order,” he growled.
“All right, all right. I’ve got to get back to class now.”
As Taiga hung up, Shinji slammed his fist on the table. I never should have trusted him with that information, he thought, as frustrated tears sprang to his eyes. What the hell did he do to her? When Taiga had come to Shinji mentioning that Tanaka wanted revenge for his loss to Sakamoto, he had thought it just meant the release of embarrassing information—but then there was the mention of schedules and daily habits. Sakamoto got away that first time through sheer luck, and Shinji hoped that posting the blackmail flyers around the school would have dissuaded Tanaka from ever trying again. Now Taiga had contacted Hiro Tanaka behind his back, and…Shinji didn’t even want to think about it.
His phone vibrated again, this time with a contact marked “Unknown Number.” Shinji picked it up and swiped across the screen.
“Tenmyouji-kun, how are you?” said a man’s voice. “It’s been quite some time since we last talked…and I see a lot has happened.”
“Yes…good and bad,” Shinji said. “The good news is that I don’t think they suspect St. Germaine…but the bad news is that Sakamoto’s been hurt.”
“I don’t know. I saw her earlier. She was limping and she had a fat lip.”
There was silence from the other end. “Do you have any idea who is responsible?”
“I do.” Shinji’s voice was cold. “And they won’t know what hit them.”